GAZING WITH INTENT AT THE LONG ROAD, Ranganatha steps down from the pavement. Bit by bit he moves forward, one hand clenching the strap of the helmet perched atop his head. With one long stride he is in the path of a car that’s about 10 metres away. Ranganatha, dressed in a sky blue uniform with an orange traffic safety vest, raises his slender arm, a standard plea for the man behind the wheel to slow down.
The road is Ranganatha’s office—where for seven hours a day he pays careful, unwavering attention to unpredictable traffic.
It’s not without its risks. Bengaluru’s Inner Ring Road connects Madiwala in South Bengaluru and travels north through Koramangala and Indiranagar before terminating at Old Madras Road. Near Koramangala, at the Ejipura junction, starts a three kilometre stretch with no traffic lights.
Back in 2003, my first time on this road, it was the expanse of this stretch that a friend banked upon—instructing me to “enjoy the ride”, as he whisked his bike at 90 kmph, violating at least one traffic law. The maximum permissible speed for two-wheelers is 50 kmph, reads a sign at the Ejipura junction. Signs like these are hardly of any use along the congested roads of Bengaluru. And this one does no better.
Before the road merges to the posh localities of Domlur, Ranganatha and Das wait on the pavement with their eyes glued to the movement of traffic. By their side, a small group anxiously awaits their escorts’ first moves.
Among the thousands of G4S security guards who work in Bengaluru, there’s nothing unusual about Ranganatha and Das when they report to work at a software company at 7 am. It’s only when they strap on their helmets and station themselves by this particular stretch of road that their day takes a more peculiar turn. By 9 am, the unrelenting traffic is at its peak. Helmets secured, the two search for empty pockets along the width of the road. Using hand gestures and the blow of a whistle to convince motorists who are at a distance to slow down, they scurry pedestrians across. By 2 pm, Rajvir and Mohanty take over, and continue on the job till 9 pm. By a modest count, roughly 250 people cross the road safely each day with their help.
Zooming along at high speeds, some drivers pay no heed to their hand gestures. Far from being merely ignored by disobedient motorists, though, the four men face daily verbal abuse. One man who was asked to slow down one afternoon by Rajvir chose to confront him later that evening. “He asked me who gave me the authority to stop him as I had earlier in the day,” Rajvir recounts with disbelief. “Then, he threatened to beat me up if I ever did that again.” Das adds, “We are security guards and people know it by our uniforms. Most don’t bother to even slow down. But, say, if we were dressed like cops, everyone would.” And how do they know who is more likely to slow down? “Cabs never slow down. If they do, they brake very hard. But we maintain a safe distance—of more than 30 feet,” Das explains.
Occasionally they are even reviled by the very people who they help. “One lady always used to complain that I don’t do my job quickly enough,” Das recalls. “One day I took that extra risk so that I can make her cross the road faster than usual. On the way, she got stranded in the middle while I made it to the other side, alone.” When he checked in with her after crossing, she said it was way too risky.
With a software technology park across the way, this section of the road has been a pedestrian’s nightmare for some time now. In 2010 the city approved the construction of a skywalk. Nearly 18 months on, there’s no structure in sight.
It’s 2 pm, and Das, gleefully smiling, unlocks his bicycle, chained to a tree off the road. Meanwhile, Rajvir, now reporting to duty, holds on to his helmet and looks upon the traffic with subdued dread. Sullenly reflecting on his line of work and the seven hours ahead, he says, “It’s not that we enjoy it but we take it as our duty, just as a job.”